Our club helmets are mostly Petzl Ecrin Rocs, which sadly aren’t produced any more. We also have a collection of ancient Edelrid Ultralight helmets that need a date with a skip, and soon. The main important things with caving helmets are that it needs to have a suspension system with 4 points of contact (this is standard, some helmets have more), a robust chin strap that is easy to undo, clips to attach a headtorch, little or no brim, and be bombproof. This mostly means we use climbing helmets as there are no purpose made helmets which suit cavers (no matter what Petzl says about the Boreo, it is a climbing helmet that can be used caving, not a caving helmet). Caving helmets are mostly to stop you bashing your head against the roof and walls, so need side protection. Ideally, you want a hardshell helmet like the Ecrin Roc or Ultralight, but these are getting rare. Hybrid helmets with a hard outer shell and an EPS liner are an acceptable alternative, but don’t last as long. Foam/softshell helmets are expensive and aren’t up to the abuse they suffer caving. They belong on climbing walls, not underground.
We have four types of club headtorches: Black Diamond Icons, Climbing Tech Lumex Pros, old Princeton Tec Apexes, and new Princeton Tec Apexes. The Icons and Apexes are theoretically waterproof, although in practise most headtorches are only water resistant after a bit of caving use. If you’re looking at getting your own headtorch, I’d recommend one of the new Princeton Tec Apex headtorches. They cost about $150, provide 550 lumens off 4xAA batteries, and are more reliably waterproof than the Icons (which can be got for $20-30 cheaper). There are other more exotic lighting options available like Zebralights, but we use the widely available AA batteries as the standard within the club. AAA options are typically cheaper and lighter, but have a poorer runtime for the weight of battery carried. I can’t recommend lights from Fenix; while they are good value and very bright, they die very, very quickly when used caving. Many people make a big deal of the whole 3 independent sources of lighting thing- we don’t. Your spare lights are attached to your mate’s helmet, with a backup in the bottom of the trip leader’s pack. This is sufficient for everything we do as a club.
Bushwalking backpacks do not belong in caves. They catch on everything, the zips get clogged by mud, and caves eat them too fast. So we have specialised cave packs for your stuff to go into that are MUCH easier to take underground. These come in a range of sizes, and there are a large range of producers. In Australia, the most common packs are Aspiring packs, which come in two sizes, 15L and 35L. If you’re looking to get a personal pack, get the 15L one or ask for a custom size (20-25L is ideal for most uses). The 35L ones are too big for most purposes in this part of the world, and even for group use, you’re better off with stuff spread across two smaller packs. IMPORTANTLY though, ask for some colour other than white. White is the default colour for Aspiring packs (although they will do others), and as Aspiring packs are common, it can get rather difficult spotting your pack in the stack of white Aspiring cave packs…
Petzl and MTDE both also make excellent cave packs, but they’re hard to find in Australia, and often very expensive when you do find them. If you go overseas, though, the 22L Petzl packs are very nice… Other more exotic brands exist in Europe and America, like Landjoff and Swaygo; you’re on your own here.